‘American Idol’ Goes Askew In Baton Rouge

"American Idol" went totally askew (or Askew) during the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, auditions this Thursday--but in the most awesome way possible. Although much of this tricky 12th season has so far focused on the icky infighting and Springer-style drama behind the judges' table, on Thursday a brilliantly bizarre boy brought so much sunshiny rainbow-striped radness to the show, he may as well have entered the audition room on a unicorn.

That magical, mythical boy's name was Charlie Askew.

Yes, that's apparently his real last name, and truly, I couldn't think of more appropriate surname for this self-described "socially awkward" 17-year-old. Diagnosed by his own doctor as having "Charlie Askew Syndrome," this unclassifiable, adorkable misfit with the ginger Loewenstern locks, sweet smile, and unabashed love of music instantly charmed me (and all four judges) the moment he shyly shuffled onto the set looking like a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon sprung to three-dimensional life. To loosely quote what Paula Abdul once told David Archuleta, I wanted to squish his head and hang him from my rearview mirror.


When Charlie started singing the intro of "Breakthru" by Queen, I fell even more in love with him. True, his voice was more of a pure theater style--when he attempted to rawk out, his performance got a little strained, a little shouty--but "Idol" could use a little theater this season, right? It can't all be everyman coffeehouse crooners all the time, right? Right?

Then Charlie sang a bit of the jazz classic "Nature Boy," and this was really THE perfect song choice for his lilting, practically prepubescent tone. "The tone is not of a gender, and I mean that in glowingly complimentary way; it's like Bowie," marveled judge Keith Urban. "I like your spirit," said Nicki Minaj. "I can identify with you using music for escapism. I think there's an opportunity for you to shake things up in this competition," Mariah Carey told him supportively. And Randy Jackson called Charlie "a seemingly dark, strange-but-cool guy."

But I didn't think Charlie was dark at all--I thought he brought a rainbow-brite light to Baton Rouge, and I can't wait to see him light it up in Hollywood. And is it too soon for me to start hoping for a Season 12 finale showdown between Charlie Askew and last week's fire-throwing eccentric, Kez Ban? Probably, but I'll dare to dream.

However, Charlie will have some stiff competition, because the judges (who, thank gawd, were on their very best behavior this Thursday) found quite a few promising hopefuls in Baton Rouge. ("Idol" always does well down South.) Here are the other successful Louisiana auditioners who'll be joining Charlie in Hollywood:

Megan Miller - Megan is the reigning Miss Baton Rouge, but she didn't exactly give her best pageant walk when she entered the judges' room: She'd broken her leg in an accident just three days before her audition, and she hobbled in on crutches. (In high heels, yet!) But only her leg was broken, not her spirit, and the fact that she disobeyed doctors' orders to keep her "Idol" appointment proved that this girl really does have a competitive drive. Her performance of Etta James's "Something's Got A Hold On Me" was, thankfully, refreshingly un-pageanty; it had soul, it had sass, and she even used her crutch as a microphone-style prop. Creative! "This girl's a natural," said Randy. Nicki called her an "undeniable superstar" and said, "I commend you for coming in here and not making an excuse [because you're injured]." Mariah called her "really endearing." So Megan was off to Hollywood, where, after undergoing successful surgery, she'll be crutches-free. Let’s see if she'll get a leg up on the competition! (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

Maddie Assel - Nominated by her fun-loving, Mardi-Gras-reveling grandma, this also-adorakble 17-year-old with the Felicity corkscrew curls and geek-chic glasses wowed with her bluesy version of the Beatles' "Oh! Darling." (Is it also too soon for me to start being a Season 12 shipper and hoping that Maddie and Charlie date? Or at least duet? They sure would be cute together.) Though Maddie's phrasing was a little off, I still adored her Reinhart-esque rasp (Maddie cited Season 10's Haley Reinhart, along with Adele and Beyonce, as her chief influences). "You got some power there," said Nicki. Four yeses later, Maddie was out in the lobby, celebrating with Ryan Seacrest and her wacky grandmother like a Bourbon Street tourist. (I only wish Grandma Assel had received an honorary golden ticket, because I bet that lady would be waaaay fun to party with in Hollywood.)

Paul Jolley - This all-American hunk could be a real threat to the less typically heartthrobby freaks and geeks in Hollywood Week. A man with boy-band good looks and a strong country voice, he's the kind of contestant viewers (particularly older, female viewers, who comprise much of "Idol's" core base) will love. (Plus, he has a dead-military-grandfather backstory, just to strengthen his chances.) After Paul smoothly belted Rascal Flatts' "You're Not Alone," Nicki told him: "I like your vibe, and that you have a sparkle in your eye as well." Mariah said, "You exuded confidence, and it was effortless, the way you sang. I know people are gonna love you." And country expert Keith praised Paul's "great, crafted vocal performance," adding, "You've got an honesty in your tone." Season 12 is really shaping up to be a very country-centric season.

Calvin Peters - Actually, that's DOCTOR Calvin Peters to you. Calvin is a bona fide physician, specializing in the rehabilitation of spinal-injury patients. A noble calling indeed, not to mention a lucrative one, so I'm not sure why Calvin would want to leave that all behind for some reality show. (He said he recently rediscovered his passion for music, but he didn't elaborate.) Many female viewers will surely swoon for "The Singing Doctor," especially one that sings babymaking music like Maxwell's "Whenever, Wherever, Whatever"--but I thought his audition was just okay. It certainly wasn't what my doctor ordered. But the judges really dug the good doctor. "I liked your vibe. That's a brave man, taking on a Maxwell song!" said Keith. "I think you have a lot more talent than people we've already sent to Hollywood," Nicki said, incredibly. Mariah called Calvin "handsome." (Well, duh.) So Calvin made it through, but I'd advise him not to quit his day job just yet. His pretty face and medical degree may appeal to the laydeez, but that stuff can only take him so far.

Dustin Watts - Okay, here was another guy with a dreamy job: Dustin is a fire-fighter. And he's also good-looking...so much so that Nicki practically shouted, "YOU GOT A GIRLFRIEND?" the moment he entered the audition room. Dustin's cover of Garth Brooks's "She's Every Woman" gave me a real Josh Gracin vibe, and it was easy to see him accruing a big "Idol" fanbase, even if he wasn't exactly doing anything new or different. "There's something special about you," said Mariah. "You've got a great style, and you've got confidence," said Keith. "To me, you look like a country star; I can see it after the show and beyond this," observed Nicki. Let's see if Dustin makes it beyond Hollywood; I think his chances are pretty good.

Burnell Taylor - Hyped as the big breakthrough audition at the end of the episode, this Hurricane Katrina survivor with the huge musical family and huge booming voice was worth the wait. His rendition of "I'm Here" from The Color Purple would have impressed even Fantasia. "Burnell made me cry! That tone is ridiculous," said a misty-eyed Mariah, fanning her fake eyelashes. And her nemesis Nicki was equally moved. "That is what we came for. I feel like we've been flying all around this country for that," Nicki raved. Keith was equally enthusiastic, declaring, "Somewhere there's a spotlight, just waiting for you to walk right into it." Um, I think that's what Burnell just did.

Parker out.

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